What breathes lives.
In today’s Gospel reading we hear that Jesus appeared to the remaining apostles and breathed into them the gift of the Holy Spirit. He provided them with a kind of spiritual mouth to mouth resuscitation. He breathed new life into a rather bedraggled and confused set of people and provided them with the means to keep going. Today’s gospel should be a source of great encouragement: Jesus breathed the gift of the Holy Spirit into an odd, confused and no doubt weary group of followers. Of course the contemporary church could never be categorised as bedraggled or confused: could it? Well, the good news is that even if we are a bit odd sometimes, even a bit discouraged, the Holy Spirit hasn’t stopped showing up. God hasn’t simply ceased to give of his very essence. It is really good news that the Holy Spirit is still given to us. But to what ends? Why would God want to provide us with the gift of the Holy Spirit? I think that today’s readings provide us at least two possible answers:
The first is so that we can become peace builders. In the short Gospel passage Jesus is recorded as saying ‘peace be with you,’ twice. We can’t, of course become peace makers, without first having received the gift of peace. Peace has two dimensions to it. The first is trust, deep trust, trust in God, whatever else is going on. The second dimension to peace is the ability to build good and righteous relationships; to become agents of reconciliation. If I had to pick out two characters from recent Christian history who have received the gift of peace and, used it to become peace-makers I would nominate Brother Roger of Taize and Desmond Tutu.
Desmond Tutu and Brother Roger also personify a second charism of the Holy Spirit. They are both music makers. They both speak in tongues. Brother Roger set up an international community accessible to all, a place where all can hear the gospel in their own ‘native language.’ Desmond Tutu has managed to speak the language of the gospel to all in a highly disparate and racially mixed country. Pentecost challenges us to present the gospel afresh in and for the sake of our generation, in terms they can understand and relate to. We too are called on to speak in tongues. In fact if we fail to do so, if we fail, to make the right type of music, to say the right type of words, to speak of our faith in a way that resonates, we will have failed to be an authentically evangelistic church. Of course we can’t just learn to speak in ‘native tongues,’ by rote. We must instead allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit. How open our we as church to the work of the Holy Spirit: really?
Pentecost was for the early church, and is for us, both a gift and a challenge. Jesus promised his followers the gift of the Holy Spirit: ‘if you believe in me I will send you another Paraclete.’ They didn’t deserve it, or earn it they were simply given it. There was nothing special about Peter, John. Thomas, and the various Marys, they were simply a disparate and bedraggled group of men and women who dared to believe and because they believed they received. Do we dare to believe in quiet the same way? Its important that we do so that we too can receive.
And because they received they were able to accept the challenge of bringing the Gospel to others. They became peace builders and music makers for their generation. Inspired by the first Christian communities and the likes of Brother Roger of Taize and Archbishop Desmond Tutu our challenge is to become peace builders and music makers for our generation, for the people of this benefice; for this is what it means to be a truly charismatic and evangelical church. At Pentecost the church was given the gift and tools to be an authentically missionary church. The gift they needed above all others was the Holy Spirit; the gift we need above all else is the Holy Spirit. Are we prepared to allow the gift of Holy Spirit to be breathed into us afresh this morning, so that we can breathe new life into the world around us by becoming peace builders and music makers? The Holy Spirit is both the gift and the challenge. Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown